After years on the sidelines, global trends in sustainability and climate consciousness have finally driven electric cars towards the spotlight. Although many feared the sector would be brought to a halt in light of the coronavirus pandemic, the impacts of the outbreak are likely to be short to mid-term. Innovation (and investment) should still continue and regions across the globe are likely to bounce back, albeit at different speed. If the COVID-19 crisis sadly exposed the fragility of the public health system, it has also shown something we couldn't have imagined a few months ago: what cities without traffic induced smog might look like. This lockdown clean-air effect enhanced conversations related to e-mobility on the social web globally, driven by topics like clean energy, sustainability or the future of mobility. Experts claim that levels of electric vehicles on the roads are more than likely to increase over the next decade. Previously described as a “backup plan”, EV is now seen as a catalyst for positive change that goes far beyond mobility. Consumer concern about a green(er) post-pandemic future is sharply increasing on social media, giving manufacturers and automotive brands a lot to think about. But what do consumers really want in their search for e-mobility? Has the crisis provoked the emergence of new consumer segments that lead the movement? We did a deep dive into the electric car landscape to find out.
In this post, we’re breaking down the most discussed consumer topics around this emerging trend before, during and after the COVID crisis, the concerns of the most relevant tribes, and the key takeaways for brands. It's a long post, so feel free to jump to the sections that speak to you the most:
- Understanding the e-mobility landscape
- 3 Tribes driving e-mobility conversations online
- Key takeaways for automotive brands
Let’s get started!
Understanding the e-mobility landscape
Our researchers looked at 2.3 million posts on e-mobility on the social web in 2019, across the US and the UK, and broke them down into 9 relevant majority categories. Here are the findings.
When it comes down to the most discussed topics around e-mobility, consumers were most interested in the environment, long-term costs & savings, and range in battery life. But as we’ll discuss later on, it’s not the first time electric cars have made an entrance.
First, let's clarify some e-mobility terms.
Three major models make up the electric market segment today: full electric, hybrid/plug-in hybrid, and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. E-mobility is the umbrella term used to describe cars and all other electric mobility products. Traditional diesel and fossil fuel models are referred to as internal combustion engines (ICE). Definitions aside, the fundamental goal of e-mobility is to produce low impact and sustainable mobility.
Electric Vehicles (EVs): The comeback
As mentioned earlier, EVs reached the spotlight once before. In 1966, General Motors released the EV1, an all-electric vehicle designed to meet the zero-emissions mandate of California. It was the first electric production car in the oil era, the first to use low resistance tires (designed to reduce energy loss) and the first to use induction charging.
The car was popular with celebrity figures such as Tom Hanks, had a reasonable speed between 100 and 250km and could be leased for 3 years between $299 to $574 a month. Consumers fell for the futuristic car...but it failed to go the distance. High product costs, rigid leasing policies, faulty charging ports, and controversial politics made the EV1 disappear. It's a failed launch that contributes to an apprehensive consumer perception of electric cars. Are consumers ready to trust a product that's failed in the past?
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Sat in a piece of electric vehicle history today... The EV1 was produced from 1996-1999 as a limited lease-only vehicle. Only about 1,100 were made and only ~40 still remain. The others were reclaimed by GM and crushed. This is vin #278. The only fully functional EV1 is at the Smithsonian, all others had their drivetrains removed so no one could steal their technology. I'll have a vlog-style video with my experience seeing the car sometime next week. Link to my channel is in my bio. #ev1 #generalmotors #tesla #electricvehicle #electricvehicles #ev #history #historyinpictures #electricalengineering
Une publication partagée par Alex Sibila ⚡ (@alexsibila) le
Consumer perception towards electric vehicles
The debate on safety when comparing EVs to ICE vehicles has been a popular topic online in the last years. In 2019, EV safety was present in 66% of discussions, and often associated with fire hazards and electrocution risks. However, supporters do believe that EVs, by design, are the safest cars on the market.
You are repeating @ElonMusk's false claims that Tesla is the 'safest manufactured cars; but, thanks for helping make @TheJusticeDept criminal case easier for them. The @NHTSAgov clearly states there is "no safest" car. #TheSociopathicBusinessModel #FraudFormula $TSLA $TSLAQ https://t.co/j1Lq7R4tNy— KillingMyCareer (@MelaynaLokosky) May 8, 2019
Delays and shortages held a lesser yet significant 19% share of conversations, driven by delays in the delivery of EVs and car parts. Concerns included Tesla’s viral announcement in May 2019, of a global shortage in nickel, copper and other electric battery minerals. Naturally, any uncertainty or failure in EV manufacturing slows down consumer momentum when adopting the electric trend. Given the likely delays caused by the pandemic, brands and manufacturers must have a clear understanding of realistic timelines they’re able to promise.
9 key topics around electric vehicles
The main challenge for automotive brands right now is to fight the misconceptions of electric, hybrid, and hydrogen vehicles. Among 1.3 million posts, we identified 9 key topics concerning consumers today.
Sustainability, cost, and battery: The top 3 concerns
Sustainability appeared in 214K posts, making it the most discussed of all 9 topics. Thanks to studies on climate, emissions, the maximization of energy efficiency, and as a consequence of the COVID crisis, there’s been a dramatic shift in environmental concerns, making businesses and consumers more aware.
However, sustainability was also a highly polarized topic among supporters and opposition. Resources appeared in 33% of sustainability conversations. Consumers debated the ethics of EV batteries and their reliance on non-renewable components such as lithium, copper, cobalt, etc., mined, for the most part, using diesel. Supporters found EVs to be an infinitely greener and more sustainable option to diesel engines. The EV opposition hailed the e-mobility trend as a fraud. They argue that electric energy production claims to produce less pollution than is actually the case.
EVs aren't as clean as you think, and I'm not talking about air pollution from mining rare earth metals, or generating electricity, but specifically particulate emissions from tire wear and brake wear are still substantial.— danbrotherston (@danbrotherston) April 21, 2020
Transit and cycling are the solutions to clean air.
@PMOIndia @amitabhk87 @NITIAayog How will EV reduce pollution as EV charging needs electricity which majorly comes from coal based power plant? EV implementation will shift smoke from vehicle's exhaust tail to power plant chimney.Govt should act against major pollution sources. pic.twitter.com/E2ES6WAgCm— Vinod Rahar (@Vinod_1804) September 2, 2019
2. Costs & Savings
The next major concern for consumers around EVs was pricing. Not only do consumers perceive electric cars as more costly, they also find it harder to evaluate the future costs of maintenance, insurance, taxes, second hand and resell value. In discussions around cost, price appeared in 65% of conversation and energy 33%.
Main issues are:— Paul M 🇮🇹🇳🇿 (@88TheDon) February 24, 2020
1) EVs are more expensive to purchase
2) EVS are fine if you drive less than 42km per day. Barrier for some fleets due to lack of charging locations. E.g. Sales Reps
3) Running costs cheaper over time but several thousand dollars to replace battery at the time
Just added up. We have an EV, heat pump, solar panels, and a diesel car. The EV does about 22k and the diesel about 20k. The diesel cost more to run than the house, the heating and the electric car combined (energy only). Insurance, maintenance, tax all higher on oil burner.— Paul kenny (@Paulkenny79) January 16, 2020
3. Battery & Usage
The third most discussed topic was battery and usage in 183K posts. In American culture, car ownership is a defining right of passage to adulthood. It represents freedom and autonomy, further romanticized in Hollywood movies and entertainment.
One of the main resistance factors against EVs is battery life and range. Consumers are still apprehensive of electric engines. They’re assumed to perform slower and travel shorter distances than ICE vehicles, indicating a real challenge to convert attitudes towards EV performance. Within the topic of battery and usage, vehicle range was present in 55% of discussions and charging infrastructure 37%.
Now we know the hot topics and concerns around EVs, let’s take a look at who’s driving the conversations.
3 Tribes driving e-mobility conversations online
Going beyond simple demographics, we’ve identified three of the most meaningful Tribes that talk about EVs, with very different attitudes and concerns, related to e-mobility in the “new-normal” post-COVID era.
There are people living in an urban or suburban environment, who are mostly using their car during weekends and holidays, to go out of the city with their kids. For their daily commute to work, they prefer to rely on e-scooters or e-bikes in order to reduce the time spent in traffic jams or the hassle of looking for a parking slot. When they decide to buy an ev, their main considerations in their decision making process are mainly pragmatics, such as tax exemptions, environmental impact, or safety and reliability. They are very concerned about the future and their kids, that’s why they aim at a lifestyle that is future-proof and sustainable.
1/One of the most popular dissenting gripes about EV adoption is classic: "Where do you think your electricity comes from when you charge your EV vehicles? It's still dirty, or it's dirtier than Gas/Petrol!" Here's the reality for CA residents like myself. pic.twitter.com/deIdAY403m— 🌮TÆCOS +⚡️TESLAS (@TacosandTeslas) October 2, 2019
Went to the @ToledoMuseum of Art today! So much fun & so much to learn! ❤🎨— EVmom (@evmom111) April 3, 2019
AND we parked under solar panels & down a few spots from public #EV chargers. Love this place for many reasons 🤗#EVmom #art #museum #toledo #solar #EVs #charger #plugin #tesla #kids #parenting #fun pic.twitter.com/HDFBuU05Ml
Active, ambitious and concerned about their social position, they are into traditional sport cars and have either already bought the car of their dreams or are aspiring to do so soon. Attracted by performance and driving experience, their main arguments for buying an EV are the floating driving experience and the sports-car-like acceleration. Given that they prefer to stay on top of things and always try to think one step ahead, owning an EV is also a lifestyle choice. Not personally affected by the economic implications of the crisis, their purchase decisions continue to be based on strategic and lifestyle considerations. When before the crisis they were hesitating between the newest sport car and an electric vehicle, now they’re more likely to invest in the later, given that the recent developments have shown that electricity is definitely a more futureproof choice.
The future is electric, and the present too https://t.co/6wx86ukctP— Mario Restini (@mariorestini) April 25, 2019
If you haven't tried an EV yet, you might wonder, what one is like to drive. Here is a flavour of what is going to happen if you decide to put your foot in an EV. #electromobility #electricvehicle #evs #electriccars #tryev #NissanLEAF pic.twitter.com/SZ13GzDGty— Gerard Chaustow (@GChaustow) June 5, 2019
Driven Females #Womeninev
Seduced by their simplicity, their silence and their ease of use, women were already at the forefront of e-mobility at the beginning of the 20th century in the United States. Fast forward to the present, 80% of all car decisions are made by women.
In the context of the pandemic, female users claim the need for electric cars and strongly support the shift to e-mobility. They often point to the fragility of the current transportation system and thus emphasize the necessity of greener alternatives. For many of them, affordability remains a key concern as they recognize that a transition to e-mobility is only possible in a structural framework that makes electric vehicles accessible to a broader segment of society.
The pandemic is showing how important the automobile is. Mass transit, while good for the ecology, is too fragile to be our only mode of transportation. We need more electric cars.— Ashley Zacharias (@AshleyBDZ) May 7, 2020
Key takeaways for automotive brands
For automotive brands to emerge as front runners of the e-mobility trend, they need to influence consumer perception around EVs and understand new preoccupations in the post-COVID era. As highlighted above, perception is largely driven by topics that apply to the entire sector: environmental concerns, long term costs, battery and vehicle range. Topics recently warmed up by the crisis, such as sustainability and environmental consciousness, are driven by transparency. For EVs to succeed, automakers need to address both sides of the coin with simplicity, to fight misconceptions, and verify truths. But there are also clear opportunities to generate demand.
The crisis is an opportunity for a switch to EVs and it makes us think about what we should, as a society, seek to do differently in the post-pandemic future. Major opportunities also lie in targeting. Tribes with a real passion for e-mobility and the lifestyle that goes with it, as well as consumers recently becoming conscious of global sustainability issues, as they both spearhead conversations, attitudes, and UGC online. In this article, we have analyzed 3 of them, but there are a lot more!
Contact us to take a peek at our free social data research report, and explore this new land of opportunities in the automotive industry.